(Guest Post) 3 Lessons I Learned from a Catheter

This post is my father, John Riley‘s, words. If you’ve heard him speak you will be able to hear him within these writings. I hope he will continue talking about the lessons he’s learning through his personal journey into grief that began in the Fall of 2015 after the sudden death of his brother, Buddy. As long as he keeps telling stories, I’ll keep typing. 

Our hope is that these raw renderings will provide some much-needed relief and hope to those who are new to pain and loss. The ones among us who suffer silently while wishing for the person who understands to share their experience so they can say, “Really? Me too!”

I would encourage you to listen to the newly added audio with dad reading the post. Hearing a story read by its author gives it the ability to come alive. It will also give you a glimpse into why he is such a gifted communicator.

CatheterWhen someone in a white lab coat with the letters M.D. on the end of their name that’s stitched on the pocket, starts talking about you and a catheter in the same sentence, it’s sobering.

Once you get to thinkin’ about the reality of the proposed solution for what you hope is a temporary problem, it can really getcha down.

So… you have conversations… with said catheter and you get real honest.
It may sound something like this, “You and I are not going to be friends but, we’ll put up with each other as long as we have to and then we’re through!”

For me, it was only a month.
For many, it can be the rest of their lives.

Now y’all, that’s serious.

I don’t mean this to be too light hearted. It’s just that, trying to learn from it was better than cryin’ and cussin’ and carryin’ on… I suppose.

So, here are three things I learned from my catheter.
Excuse me, THE catheter.
I never wanted to own the thing.

1.- Pain can have benefits… if you let it.

Well, shoot! It’s hard to say what the benefits are because I can’t really think of many, but mainly you appreciate times of no pain.

After two weeks when I was told by my doctor (who is absolutely fantastic), “Sorry, we have to wait another week and another test.” I was upset. I had to process it.
It was only then that I could be thankful for this thing, discomfort and all, making it possible for me to heal inside.

So, I was extremely grateful that I was improving and that the greater percentage of my body was pretty healthy.

I also found gratitude for whoever invented the catheter. (That sounds weirder than I thought it would.) But seriously, I got really thankful for all the lives this person saved, including mine. Without this dang catheter, I would have already exploded five times over! Now, that’s enough to make even me grateful.

2.- Compassion has been defined as entering into the sorrows of another person and thereby showing mercy. I think that’s the way it goes?

How could I possibly enter into someone’s sorrow when I had never had the same sorrow?

I have been through the deaths of… well… everybody in my family older than I am, but this was my first time with a catheter. Now I can really feel for someone who has to have this great invention for a day, or for life.

Also, it teaches me that even though I don’t know personally what someone else is going through, I can know that it’s hard… even though I’ve not experienced the same thing. I thought I understood what it meant to be empathetic, but I’m not sure I ever truly have… before this. I hope that I will never again be unconcerned about another person’s problem.

3.- Make adjustments

By this, I don’t just mean which leg to put the bag on… but everything… well almost everything, you’ve done for many years.

Here are just a few that I have learned… fast… ’cause I didn’t have a choice.

Sleeping – don’t move around much. Get accustomed to sleeping on your back and your side. It’s not bad… except for sometimes… when it is.

Shower – unplug, clean, replug, dry… always makes ya feel better.

Dress – got me a whole new set of underwear, relaxed and unrestricted.
I didn’t realize boxers could be so comfortable! Wear ’em all the time now.

I have some that look like shorts, but the other day at my little community bank I go to, my friend the loan officer told me he could tell they were underwear. Oh well…

Loose pants are my friend. Especially sweat pants. But on days when the temperature in Alabama is 85 degrees, it looks kinda weird. So… I just stayed at home a lot.

Walking – was sometimes pretty easy, annnnd sometimes not.
Most of the time it felt like I was walkin’ with my legs spread like I just got off a horse. Nobody seemed to really notice except for one friend who did say to me, “Why are you walkin’ so funny?!”
“It’s a long story!” I thought to myself. I have lots of conversations in my own head these days. Know what I mean?

Exercise – wasn’t on the agenda. Every day made me look forward to the time I could really start back exercising and made me feel a deep concern for those who never can.

So, the catheter has taught me to be open to learning new ways of doing things. As I get real close to being 70 years of age, it makes me realize I want to keep growing.

Considering these three things, I hadn’t really thought of it, but maybe the catheter was my friend? However, I’m not gonna have it framed and hang it on the wall. (Can you imagine?! Yuck!)

What are you going through that people can’t necessarily see, but is making a huge impact in your everyday? Has it taught you a kind of gratitude that you never knew you wanted to learn?

40 Years In…My Purpose & Pain

There is so much I could say, in the blank space, with cursor blinking, waiting to be filled. I’ve sat here many times before today, staring, with thoughts racing, too much to begin.img_5872I was honestly surprised…and not…to see the tab at the top of this page stating in all caps that I have 87 Drafts. Eighty-Seven works in progress. How silly. Knowing that each time I release my truth from the inside out, it unlocks a new aspect of freedom that I didn’t know was there. And yet, if I think about it too long, I won’t hit “Publish” on this one either.

jcp-2016-croppedSo…For today, let’s dive in before I convince myself to “Draft” it.

In the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, I’ve thought a lot, maybe too much, about the purpose and pain through my first 40 years on this earth. While I genuinely hope this helps someone reading, it is as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s.

My journey has not been one of ease, though it has been better than many, and more privileged than most.

The List…jcp-2016-5869

  1. Trust can take years to build and moments to destroy.
  2. Happiness can be bought (temporarily) and then lost, while true joy is internal and untouchable by outside forces.
  3. Grace is one of the most priceless and underserved gifts. Though freely given, we must receive and embrace it before it can manifest in our lives.
  4. Intuition is absolutely real and divinely instilled.
  5. The ability to forgive is key to authentic beautyNothing will age you faster than resentment.
  6. A steller hairstylist is a must. Once you find said stylist, tip well.
  7. Anger rots your inner being before ever showing up at surface level.
  8. Fear only leads to greater fear.
  9. Prayer works.
  10. When searching for an answer, love almost always fills the gap.
  11. It’s about “who” not “what” you know. (This applies to everything.)
  12. Baby wipes are essential for life. They remove crayon from a painted surface, that unidentified sticky residue just beneath a child’s car seat that’s been there for God only knows how long, mascara, lip stain, mud on wedges…etc., etc.
  13. Smiling more will inevitably lift one’s own spirit while providing warmth to the stranger passing by.
  14. It’s true, you cannot out-exercise your fork.
  15. We never see our true-self clearer, nor exert our need for a Savior more, than during times of trial.
  16. Failure is not optional, it’s necessary.
  17. Lessons will either shape you or break you.
  18. People do not control your destiny.
  19. God is not mad at you.
  20. Sunscreen actually is important.
  21. If you have one true friend you can trust with your weirdness, you are richly blessed.
  22. There is a deep human longing in us all to be fully known and accepted anyway.
  23. Death is not the end. It’s the transition.
  24. Grief is unpredictable.
  25. No matter the color of our skin, just below that thin layer, we all look the same.
  26. Generosity is key to contentment.
  27. Everything (really is) going to be okay (eventually).
  28. We don’t have to share the same DNA to be family.
  29. Miracles still happen.
  30. Everything we say and do begin with a thought.
  31. Being an adult can be really hard.
  32. We can decide, at any given moment, to change direction.
  33. There is no excuse to be unkind (to anyone) (ever).
  34. Gratitude changes things.
  35. We remember moments.
  36. God created each one of us with great intention and purpose.
  37. The most sacred space of witness is during birth and death.
  38. If we could truly grasp our worth, nothing would have the ability to intimidate or have a stronghold in our lives.
  39. Don’t put earthly limits on a heavenly God.
  40. Time goes by so quickly.

BONUS ROUND
1. We don’t have to be afraid.
2. Everyone is important to someone.
3. Labels were never meant for people.
4. Sex doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
5. Right and wrong is relative.

So there ya go. With hundreds more to be added at another time. As I live out this first year in my 4th decade of life, what would you add?

 

 

The Heart of the Prodigal

Tomorrow is a big, milestone birthday for me. 40 years. I have spent the last several weeks reflecting on the journey. Where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going.

A huge part of my story is the journey through alcoholism and a decade long battle with an eating disorder. In this conversation with my dad, I ask him what it was like being on the other side of me when I was living my life as his prodigal daughter. Was he afraid? What made him keep pursuing me? How did he release control of me? What would he tell others going through this now.

 

5 Things Not to Say When Talking With a Child About Death

How does one go about choosing an outfit to wear to the funeral of someone they love knowing that going forward it will be thought of as, “The outfit I wore to the funeral.”?

While staring blankly into my closet full of more than enough clothes to wear, a little voice from behind me said, ”Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to decide what to wear to the service for Uncle Buddy tomorrow.”
“Oh...” [long pause] “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes…right now, in this moment…I’m okay.” I replied.
“Alright. I’m going to play in the fort. Call me if you need me.” he said, skipping out of the room.

“Call him if I need him…” I said to myself smiling.
He’s 9 and I’m convinced he has a better grasp on everything than I do.

As I turn back to the plethora of clothing, the silence falls heavily.

I take some options from the hangers and fold them into my suitcase, careful to lay a few things out so that I can slip into them as quietly as possible after my 4:00 a.m. alarm alerts me to the beginning of this journey into grief.

Two days ago, after receiving the call that my uncle had laid his head back to rest, falling asleep one last time, it began a slew of conversations. The kind that take time and intentional thought. The ones that include long pauses and deep sighs. Are you familiar with these kinds of conversations?

I’m going to skip a ton of detail and get to the point as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we don’t understand why we are in certain seasons of life and why we are walking through things that seem far from what we had planned. And then one day, if we pay attention, we get a glimpse of the answer.

I have learned so much from the families who have welcomed me alongside them while they are experiencing loss. Being a witness to someone else’s pain is difficult to describe. To say that it puts things into perspective is much too basic. It has reshaped the way I see the world and now feel the reality that everyone lives and will one day die.

I am being taught how to navigate difficult conversations with my own children about death without being afraid. Out of all the many words and spoken thoughts we have shared, here are words and phrases I’ve learned not to use.

“He passed away.” Children are literal. We adults have a hard time saying the words, “He died.” We want to cushion the news. Don’t. This only confuses a child. When Jesus said that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. Their eyes have not been clouded. They are still able to see things as they truly are.

“We lost him.” Again, children are literal and will question, “If we lost him, we will be able to find him.”

“He’s in a better place.” They will want to know why they can’t be there too if it’s a better place. And why would we be left behind instead of going with him?

“It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s sad and the grieving process may not have even begun due to the shock of losing someone suddenly. It will be okay, but for now, it’s sad and we should experience the sadness and grieve the loss. Remember that grief is unpredictable. It comes at the most inopportune times. Be prepared to react to things much differently for a time.

“We aren’t going to talk about it.” They want to talk about it. They want to share memories and tell stories. It is counterproductive not to let them express their emotions and thoughts. Of the many people I have talked with after the loss of someone close to them, the thing I hear repeatedly is, “I wish people weren’t afraid to talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive and the best way to do that is by sharing stories about him.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but maybe children intuitively know how to process grief much better than we adults do? I want to be open to change and continually learning. Who knew that some of my best teachers would be the smallest people in my home?Boys in sunlight

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 
So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.
17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.

I’m sure you have many things to add to my five. What are they? Let’s ease each other’s burdens, even if only through the comments on this page. You never know how far your hope is reaching.

To the One Who Loves an Alcoholic

There is someone in my life who I adore. I love her so much that my insides ache when she’s hurting. Unfortunately she is in love with an alcoholic. And as some of you reading this have experienced…we are capable of causing the worst kind of pain. 

Looking back over more than a decade in recovery, free from alcohol and all it brings with it, there are things that I know to be true. Things I can see now that I couldn’t see before. Things that just, are, no matter how much I wish they weren’t.

So, I wrote her this letter and now I’m sharing it with you.
Not to provide all the answers for what you’re going through, but to hopefully shed some light on the person whom you have continually given the ability to hurt your heart.

I will be removing any personal information with generic wording and adding quotes so that you can insert the name of your person.

Friend,” this is truth…

He” is married to alcohol. Drugs are his mistress. Anything else…anyone else, is just a side thing. He always returns to what he knows. Alcohol.

It’s one of the most difficult relationships to sever. It can be done, but it takes more work than most people are willing to put in.

It’s not you.

Truly. It isn’t.

It’s that cunning, baffling bitch known as alcoholism. And without a Higher Power, complete Surrender, and the Willingness to change by dying to self, there is no hope.

You’ve laid awake countless nights, bartering with God.
Your bartering has turned to begging.
Your begging has turned to weeping.
Your weeping has turned to exhaustion.
And just when you’re about to give up…there he comes…back in the picture…full of empty promises that you want so badly to be true.
And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

This has gone on for years.
You say things like, “…but I love him! When you really love someone, you don’t just give up on them.
That may be true, but…
as a human being, a beautiful child of God, born with great purpose, you must see the wasted moments on this person who is blissfully unaware of your worth.

You don’t, do you?
You can’t.
Something in you, like in all of us, grasps on to the smallest ounce of hope and we refer back to that speck even when we are surrounded by the mountains of proof that say otherwise.

This is where I have done my share of begging God.
For reasons unknown to me, He hasn’t lifted the blinder that covers your eyes.
I know He can.
I know He wants you to be whole and live in the light of His glory and grace.
And yet knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

There is a reason why so many alcoholics lose their battle with alcohol, at times taking entire families down with them.
Like the blinder you wear, he too wears a self-inflicted blinder.
The difference in yours and his is that he can remove his at any time.
All if takes to begin is a choice to change.
One choice can change everything.
After that one choice is when the real work begins.
I can’t even call it rebuilding. That can’t start until all of the wreckage is sorted through and hauled away.
This is a grueling process.
It’s the part where most people give up.
After all, it’s much easier to have a drink than to feel the weight of our current reality.

Here’s that most difficult part for you and for most people…
Are you ready for this?

There is nothing you can do to change him.

You can’t wish him sober.
You can’t force him to get sober.
You can’t make him see the disaster he leaves in his wake every time he comes around.

Here’s what you can do.

You can accept that nothing is going to change until he actively participates in recovery. (By this, I mean, pursues it like he would his next “fix.” It’s the only way to freedom.)
You can acknowledge and release the time you have given him and that he has squandered.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and say 2 words, “Not Anymore.” followed by 4 words, “From this moment forward.”
You can sincerely speak into your child’s heart and mind that you are her protector, provider, greatest advocate, teacher, mother, and that you will do whatever it takes to provide a life that’s healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. One where she can grow and thrive, because you know the time that you have with her is short and you will lay a solid foundation that she can always stand on without worry of losing her footing.
(The way you can be 100% confident of this is because it’s what Christ does for you…and for her…everyday.)
You can recognize that even though you didn’t plan for your life to play out this way, there are so many people who love you and want to come alongside you, if you will let them.
You can cry when you need to cry, scream even, when staring at the difficult truth that your child’s father isn’t present. (This is no place to linger. You feel the feelings and move on.)
You can look in the mirror, straight into your own soul and breathe in the grace that you will need on a daily basis to do life.
You can repeat in your head and out loud as much as needed, I am not alone. I am capable. I am strong and I am worthy of love.”
You can say these same affirmations to your daughter. She will need to know them. There may come a time in her life when they seem the only thing to cling to in the midst of the storm.
You can put one foot in front of the other and know that there will be days when you are in a groove and moving like a champion as well as the ones where every step towards tomorrow seems to sucker punch you back into yesterday. That’s okay. We appreciate beauty all the more when we see the purpose of the rain. (Didn’t you tell me that?)

“Friend,” You are so very loved.
We see you.
We hear you.
You matter.

And…it’s time to walk away.
We’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

Love and Grace,
Signature

3 Reasons Why I Won’t Give Up

JCP-1119 (1 of 1) (1)There is a girl, who I love very much, on a path of self-destruction. I have been feeling, in the last few days that she may be successful in her attempts to end her own life.

It feels helpless.

She struggles with some of the same things I struggled with so if anyone should know that nothing can be done, it is I. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, does it? It’s our human nature to come to the rescue of the ones we love and fight for their existence when they no longer seem to care about existing.

I remember once describing my circumstances as feeling like a glass box, encompassing me. I was naked and everyone could see me, but no one could hear me…and I couldn’t hear them. Some of the onlookers were laughing while others were weeping. Some of the people closest to me were pounding on the glass, yelling at me. I couldn’t understand their words, but the emotion in their face communicated such pain.

I am no longer on the inside of the box. I now stand in the crowd, looking in at this beautiful woman, full of potential and light. She, like I, doesn’t see herself accurately. Her appearance, her worth, it’s all skewed. I say things from the outside, but she doesn’t hear me. Her mother, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and friends, weep at the thought of her life ending before it has really even begun. She doesn’t hear them either. She sees them, but their feelings can’t get through the glass she surrounds herself in.

She closes her eyes and is completely alone. In darkness…with only the noise of her own thoughts in her head. If only she would open her eyes, grab the closest thing and shatter the glass. Anyone of us would gladly do it for her, but the only thing that will break this glass is inside the box, with her.

She is teaching me that when we live for others or rely on others for our happiness or discontentment, our reasons for existing are always changing. So I’ve taken a long hard look at why I don’t give up on life when the feelings start telling me to.

Here’s why…

1. A better day always comes. Without fail! Life gets better. It’s just the way it works. Some days are going to suck. Nothing will go as planned. There is always a better day in the future. I know this to be true! I’ve seen it happen more than once in my life. It is guaranteed.

2. Life is incredibly short. It feels really long some days, but the truth is, we blink and our childhood is over, our early adulthood has been lived and we are looking back thinking what our parents always told us they thought, “Where has the time gone?” I want to look back and see a life well lived. In order to do that, I can’t be finished yet.

3. My life, my story, can be used to teach others about perseverance, courage, loving beyond my ability, dreaming BIG dreams and watching them come to fruition. It’s about raw recovery. My life is the epitome of amazing grace.

I know, with all of my heart and experience that the clock is ticking and time is running out. I know that she will die unless she decides to live. I know because there was a day when I was given a choice and I chose life.

Here is our last text exchange.
Text MessageIf you or someone you love is suffering, please don’t wait until it’s too late. There is hope and it starts with you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
  • Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
  • Eating Disorders Center 1-888-236-1188
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 1-847-831-3438
  • Crisis Intervention 1-888-596-4447
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or TTY 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
  • Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio 1-888-628-9454
  • Veterans Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1

My Nonviable Pregnancy

Last night I had a dream that I was pregnant.
My baby was born with complications and did not live long after birth.
In the dream the mourning process was so intense, I was sure it was actually happening to me. You know those dreams where something in your mind keeps saying, “This is just a dream. It’s not really happening. Wake up.” I had that somewhere in the background, but it didn’t matter. The pain felt real.

I was so sad and no matter what anyone said or did, it wasn’t helpful or comforting.

In 2005 I experienced a traumatic miscarriage. One that could have taken my life.
I remember the look on the tech’s face while staring at the monitor. It went from relaxed to furrowed. I said, “What’s wrong?
There was silence followed by her reply, “Let me get the doctor. I’ll be right back.”
Why? What do you see?” I begged.
“I’ll be right back.” she responded.

It’s amazing how quickly, pure unadulterated joy can turn into confusion and emotional chaos.

You can guess what happened next…the doctor came in to say that there was no heartbeat and it was no longer a viable pregnancy.
I watched her mouth move, not really hearing a word she said.
I don’t understand?” I said.
“These things happen all the time.” she answered.
Not to me, they don’t! This has never happened to me!” I screamed almost in a whisper.
“You’ll get pregnant again. Don’t worry.” she said as she patted my knee.

She then explained the procedure they would need to do to remove all the tissue that made up my “nonviable” pregnancy.
We walked to the checkout counter and scheduled the appointment for the next week.
That was a Friday and the appointment was the next Tuesday.

What happens between now and then?” I asked.
“Maybe nothing…or your body may decide to start the process on it’s own.” she responded. “Either way, we will need to perform the procedure to ensure safety for you and future pregnancies.”

We walked through the door marked exit.

For the next little while her words played over and over in my mind.
“These things happen all the time…You’ll get pregnant again, don’t worry.”
It was surprising and upsetting to me how quickly this life was dismissed. Though present only for a short time in my womb, surely it deserved a little more acknowledgement?
Is it okay for me to be sad?
Is it silly of me to cry and feel like I’m losing my baby?
Is it ridiculous that I cannot even think about getting pregnant again while I’m still sorting out the details of restoring my body to normalcy after this miscarriage?

The next few days played out like a movie.
I began cramping at work, knew something was wrong, left work and drove home. By then I was hemorrhaging. I had never seen so much blood.

Chris was on his way home to take me to the ER.
I remember the nurse on the phone saying, “Stay with me until he gets there.”
She said an ambulance would take just as long, maybe longer by the time they found the house so it was better to wait on Chris. I remember asking her if I was going to die. She said, “Not if you get to the ER in time.”

I did get to the ER in time.
I didn’t die.
I went on to have beautiful, healthy, children.

When you ask me why I take pictures of families experiencing the loss of a child, I think this is part of the reason. My loss is nothing compared to the way some families experience losing their baby, but it was still my loss.

It hurt.
It was lonely.
It was scary.
I needed someone (preferably a girlfriend) to walk alongside me and just be.

Do you know a woman like that?
The kind who will just be with you and doesn’t require small talk or entertainment? They are content with the beauty of silence.

I think I had that dream last night because it prompted this post and someone needed to read these words today.

So for that someone…no matter what stage of pregnancy or postpartum you experienced your loss, all of the feelings you feel are valid. Feel them deeply and for as long as you need to. I am convinced, now more than ever, that is the only true pathway to healing and peace.